The Zombie Rights Campaign Blog

Why Is ‘Legend’ Anti-Zombie, and What Can We Do About It? (Updated: Now Ranked ‘Zombie Tolerant’)

I was intrigued to learn of a new gaming system called ‘Legend’, reminiscent of ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ (and built upon the Open Game License) from good old Brian Clevinger:

“…Legend is built to be understandable, to be learnable, and finally, to be something you can own and change and use without too much fear of making the game go boom.” – Legend, page 8.

And that pretty much sets the tone.

If I had to review Legend in one sentence, and it’s my website so I don’t, it’d be this:

“The more I read Legend, the more I’m convinced this is what 4th ed D&D should have been.

For more info, see Legend’s site, especially this handy About page.

We’ve talked before here at the ZRC about the often-fraught and strained, but still promising, relationship between the gaming community and Zombie Rights; the Undead are usually, but not always, treated as adversaries in such systems. And of course, the ZRC would love to see a good method to make inroads toward better and more widespread Zombie Tolerance in the nerdy community.

So I decided to check out ‘Legend’, especially while the game is available under a ‘Pay What You Want’ fundraiser for Child’s Play.

Unfortunately the resulting game is decidedly mixed on Zombie Rights, and has distinctly Zombie Unfriendly elements.

Firstly, the Undead, along with Robots/Androids/Sentient ‘constructs’ and a few other races/species, are segregated from the usual motley assortment of Gnomes, Dwarves, Elves, Halflings and the like, into a separate-but-supposedly-equal ‘Racial Track’ system, and unlike those humanoid character types, playing as an Undead requires special permission and group consensus (Legend core book, page 77):

Racial Tracks
These tracks provide racial abilities for various types of monstrous NPCs or unusual PCs. They are available to PCs with group approval (since not all groups want to play on the same team with vampires or dragons).

Because, you see, while being an Elf just makes your character a person, being Undead defines you much more narrowly, and a gaming group can’t be expected to tolerate that automatically.

Riiiiiiight.

It gets better: the Undead are defined as a group based upon, essentially, destruction and the theft, often violent theft, of living energies (Legend core book, pages 81-82) :

1st Circle – ConsumptionSU: You feed on energy that
belongs to someone else. The specifics of this vary based
on your subtype:

Ghoul: You draw life and sustenance from the flesh of sentient creatures. Once per [Round], if you successfully hit an opponent with your bite attack, you can force the bitten creature to make a Reflex save (DC 10 + ½ your level + your Strength modifier). On a failed save, you regain 1 hit point per level and a +1 bonus on your next d20 roll, and your opponent is [Shaken] for one [Round].

Lich: You draw strength from ambient magical energy. Every time you cast a spell or spell-like ability, you can reduce your level by 1 for purposes of calculating numerical effects of that spell (if you are level 1, all numerical effects are halved). Doing so causes you to regain 1 hit point per level. Additionally, any time a magical effect within [Close] range is dispelled, you regain 1 hit point per level.

Mummy: You draw strength from the fear of surrounding mortals. Every time an opponent within [Close] range fails a saving throw against a [Fear] effect, you regain 1 hit point per level.

Vampire: You draw strength from feeding on blood. Once per [Round], if you successfully hit an opponent with your bite attack, you can force the bitten creature to make a Fortitude save (DC 10 + ½ your level + your Constitution modifier). On a failed save, you regain 1 hit point per level and your opponent takes 2 Constitution damage

Skeleton Champion: You draw strength from the heat of battle. Each [Round], as your opponents become weaker, you grow in power. You gain My Name Is War as a bonus feat. Alternatively, you may choose one other feat that you qualify for.

I quote at length to show the wide variety of Undead individuals this game besmirches! Just starting out with the greatly deprecated term ‘Ghoul’ instead of ‘Zombie’ is bad enough, not to mention confusing the issue of Zombies with legitimate dietary needs and that of Living cannibals. But to then define the Undead as all being somehow parasitic on the larger world’s ebb and flow of energy (which, presumably, Legend assigns as belonging to the Living?)

This is doubly tragic because, unlike so many other gaming systems, ‘Legend’ presumes from the outset that sentient, meaningful Undead characters are *desirable* to play and incorporates them into the basic product. Just, it seems, somewhat less desirable than the Living.

Not automatically antagonists, but neither necessarily worthy of shared humanity? It’s an odd middle path to strike out upon.

And not to broaden our mandate too far, but the ZRC also is suspicious of their extremely negative characterization of Demons (ibid, page 78):

Demons are malevolent and destructive creatures, remnants of a dead universe. They spread chaos and despair in many different ways, but all are known for their mobility and the tactical threats they pose.

Given, as we’ve often noted, the broad and blurry line between Demons and Zombies (see ‘Evil Dead’ or the Italian horror classic ‘Demons’ for examples), we have to be vigilant in guarding the Demon-ish flank of the Zombie Community against such prejudices. Must we always characterize Demons in such a harshly negative fashion? They probably have their own side to the story, you know. Ever heard of Good Guy Lucifer?

In the end, despite noteworthy and laudable attempts to mainstream the playing of the Undead in tabletop gaming, ‘Legend’ fails pretty spectacularly at sympathizing with their plight, either in the fictional gameworld or the real one.

The Zombie Rights Campaign is thus reluctantly forced to award it an Anti-Zombie rating, at least until some of these concerns have been addressed:

Could've been so much more.

Update: See this post; rating adjusted to Zombie Tolerant as a result of discussion with Rule of Cool and clarifications.


About The Author

The role of 'Administrator' will be played tonight by John Sears, currently serving as President of The Zombie Rights Campaign.

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